Week 1: Vocabulary

by Meaghan Doyle


difficult to comprehend


not likely to offend or arouse tensions


practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline

au pair

a usually young foreign person who cares for children and does domestic work for a family in return for room and board and the opportunity to learn the family’s language


dressed meats and meat dishes


widespread disruption of normal liver structure by fibrosis and the formation of regenerative nodules


an identifying mark, clinic emblem, or device used by a printer or a publisher


fire; especially : a large disastrous fire


feeding on dung


of or relating to Creoles or their language: a person of mixed French or Spanish and black descent speaking a dialect of French or Spanish


characteristic of Dionysus or the cult of worship of Dionysus; especially : being of a frenzied or orgiastic character


second-in-command of Odysseus’ ship


a vigorous rhythmic dance style of the Andalusian Gypsies; also : a dance in flamenco style


any of the avenging deities in Greek mythology who torment criminals and inflict plagues

garde du corps



the art or science of good eating


a cowboy of the South American pampas


a stew made with meat (as beef), assorted vegetables, and paprika


a Greek goddess associated especially with the underworld, night, and witchcraft


a member of the French Reformed communion especially of the 16th and 17th centuries


characteristic of an isolated people; especially : being, having, or reflecting a narrow provincial viewpoint


a blank space or a missing part


lacking legal or moral restraints


to cause to become soft or separated into constituent elements by or as if by steeping in fluid


a master usually in an art


the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the Muses by Zeus


was the nom-de-plume of the French poet, essayist and translator Gérard Labrunie


neither perpendicular nor parallel : inclined


a substantial body of work constituting the lifework of a writer, an artist, or a composer


conspiracy of silence


a usually effortless often unconscious assimilation


portraying or expressive of the life of shepherds or country people especially in an idealized and conventionalized manner


next to the last


a structure usually consisting of parallel colonnades supporting an open roof of girders and cross rafters

petit comite

small group


a hallucinogenic drug containing mescaline that is derived from peyote buttons and used especially in the religious ceremonies of some American Indian peoples


exhibiting phosphorescence : luminescence that is caused by the absorption of radiations


daringly original or creative


the rhythmic and intonational aspect of language


to appropriate wrongfully and often by a breach of trust


a 4-sided enclosure especially when surrounded by buildings


causing fear or alarm : formidable


disdainfully or skeptically humorous


interest in or treatment of obscene matters especially in literature


image, representation


a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing


causing or tending to cause sleep


feelings of anger or ill will often suppressed


psychology concerned especially with resolution of the mind into structural elements


a state of servitude or submission


to change or alter in form, appearance, or nature and especially to a higher form


Odysseus : a king of Ithaca and Greek leader in the Trojan War who after the war wanders 10 years before reaching home


The Liberation Army of the South was an armed group formed and led by Emiliano Zapata which took part in the Mexican Revolution.

UPDATED: Locations

Brooks Williams graciously volunteered to create this map of 2666 locations based on Sara’s list. We’ll keep updating it throughout the group read.

View 2666 Locations in a larger map

Q&A with Lorin Stein

Lorin Stein is a senior editor at Farrar, mind Straus and Giroux. He edited FSG’s translations of Roberto Bolaño.

Matt Bucher: When did you first hear about Roberto Bolaño?

Lorin Stein: I first heard about Roberto Bolaño from my friend Monica Carmona Carmona. Monica is an editor in Barcelona, but she was doing an internship in New York. I happened to see a group snapshot that included her and Bolaño, who she explained was a friend of hers, a brilliant writer, and very ill. In fact he died a couple of weeks afterward. Eventually, Monica gave me a copy of By Night in Chile, in translation, to read on the airplane home. I read it on the flight between Barcelona and Madrid. That was an eye-opener.

MB: Did you acquire The Savage Detectives? What led you to believe that The Savage Detectives could be a hit in the US?

LS: FSG acquired The Savage Detectives and 2666 at the same time. My boss, Jonathan Galassi, was very much part of the acquisition. Jonathan had read some of The Savage Detectives in its Italian translation. I had read the New Directions novellas, plus some short stories in French. It was obvious to us that Bolaño was one of the most important writers of our time, and that we were in a strong position to make that case to American readers.

What’s more, Natasha Wimmer had read The Savage Detectives in Spanish, and she gave us an enthusiastic report. And of course the Spanish press had been ecstatic.

MB: How involved were Bolaño’s heirs in the publication of the US editions of The Savage Detectives and 2666?

LS: As is usual, we dealt exclusively with the agents.

MB: I’m sure you expected 2666 to be successful, but did its success exceed your expectations?

LS: It did. It outsold The Savage Detectives, which I did not expect. I find it a more difficult book. Emotionally difficult. Weirder. I was afraid it would stand in relation to The Savage Detectives roughly as Gravity’s Rainbow stands to V., or Finnegans Wake to Ulysses. The book for hardcore Bolaño-heads.

MB: Were there parts of the book that had to be retranslated multiple times? What parts needed the most editing?

LS: The one section where Natasha undertook heavy revisions, as I remember, was The Part About Fate. Between drafts she did research into boxing, the Black Panthers, etc. We also discussed Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby-Dick as a precursor to Barry Seaman’s motivational speech.

MB: Were there any other Bolaño books or manuscripts you wanted to publish with FSG that ended up at New Directions? What is that arrangement like?

LS: It is a very amicable arrangement. New Directions had already signed up their books by the time FSG came along. They continue to publish the shorter works.

MB: How do you think Bolaño would have reacted to his posthumous literary fame in the US?

LS: I had a dream about this, because of course I don’t know. In the dream Bolaño complained that he just wished he could keep writing.

MB: Without going into too many spoilers, but looking at all the plotlines and characters, what would you say is the overall theme or main idea behind 2666? What is Bolaño trying to achieve here?

LS: If there’s an overall theme or main idea, I don’t know what it is. The murder of women in northern Mexico is clearly central to the book. More generally, 2666 strikes me as preoccupied with death–specifically, with the fear of death. One’s own death, the death of people one loves. That fear erupts throughout Bolaño’s work. It is a kind of existential terror. In most of the books it’s an undertone. But in 2666 those murders make the fear concrete.

I hope that doesn’t spoil the plot.

Week 1: Locations

by Sara Corona Goldstein

Week One (pp. 1-51)

Paris, no rx France – Pelletier studied German literature at University here in 1980. (p. 3)

Munich, buy information pills Germany – Pelletier travels here in 1981 and finds Archimboldi’s Mitzi’s Treasure and The Garden. (p. 4)

Turin, more about Italy – Morini teaches German literature here and is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. (p. 6)

Madrid, Spain (El Escorial) – Espinoza is excluded from a trip here with the Jüngerians. (p. 7)

Berlin, Germany – Norton lives here for three months in 1988, where she is introduced to Archimboldi. (p. 9)

Bologna, Italy – German literature colloquium held in 1993, attended by Morini, Espinoza, and Pelletier. They meet Liz Norton. (p.11)

Bremen, Germany – literature conference held shortly after Bologna conference. (p. 12)

Avignon, France – the four critics meet again at the postwar European literature colloquium at the end of 1994. (p. 15)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands – they meet again in 1995 at a panel discussion on contemporary German literature. They meet the Swabian. (p. 17)

Frisian town (unnamed), Germany – the Swabian met Archimboldi and the widow here while working as a cultural promoter. (p. 18)

Buenos Aires, Argentina – the widow traveled here in 1927 or 1928, where her husband won three horse races and the lady talked with the little gaucho. (p. 20)

Hamburg, Germany – Pelletier and Espinoza travel here to visit Archimboldi’s publisher. They meet with Mrs. Bubis. (p. 24)

Salonika, Greece – Morini, while attending a conference, suffers a mild attack of temporary blindness. (p. 35)

Salzburg, Germany – the four meet again in 1996 at the contemporary German literature symposium. They learn that Archimboldi may be a Nobel candidate and declare peace with the other faction of Archimboldi scholars. (p. 36)

Hyde Park, London – Morini, while on a visit to see Norton, sits here reading a book about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and her recipes. He talks with and reads to a bum. (p. 48)

Week 1: Timeline

1920 – Benno von Archimboldi born in Prussia

1956 – Piero Morini born near Naples

1961 – Jean-Claude Pelletier is born

1964 – The Berlin Underworld is published in Rome

1968 – Liz Norton is born

1969 – Colossimo translates The Leather Mask

1971 – Rivers of Europe is published in Italy

1973 – Inheritance is published in Italy

1975 – Railroad Perfection is published in Italy

1976 – Morini reads Archimboldi for the first time

25 Dec 1980 – Jean-Claude Pelletier reads Archimboldi for the first time

1981 – Pelletier discovers two more Archimboldi books

1983 – Pelletier begins translating D’Arsonval

1984 – Pelletier’s translation of D’Arsonval is published in Paris

1986 – Pelletier is a professor of German in Paris

1988 – Morini translates Bifurcaria Bifurcata into Italian

1988 – Liz Norton lives in Berlin for three months, hospital first reads Archimboldi

1989 – Pelletier and Morini meet at a conference in Leipzig

1990 – Manuel Espinoza receives his doctorate in German literature

1990 – Pelletier and Morini meet Espinoza at a forum in Zurich

1991 – Morini translates Saint Thomas into Italian

1991 – Espinoza sees Pelletier at a conference in Maastricht

1992 – Pelletier, Espinoza, and Morini meet at a seminar in Augsburg

January 1992 – Pelletier and Espinoza attend a conference in Paris

1993 – Pelletier, Espinoza, and Morini attend a conference in Bologna

1994 – Morini, Pelletier, Espinoza, and Norton first meet at a German literature conference in Bremen

December 1994 – the four critics attend a conference in Avignon

1995 – the four critics attend a conference in Amsterdam

1996 – the four critics attend a conference in Salzburg

December 1996 – Morini has a nightmare about Norton diving into a pool

Week 1: Dreams

By Daryl L. L. Houston

Our first encounter with dreams in 2666 isn’t so much an encounter as a brush-by. On page 14, help we’re told that Morini may have dreamed some horrible unrecollected dream.

On page 22, website we have another non-dream, about it but a sleep disturbance, as the Frisian lady in the gaucho story the Swabian recounts is kept up one night, tossing and turning as she tries to unpuzzle the gaucho’s son’s revelation that her husband’s horse racing victories had been fixed.

Yet another false-start on the dream front is the sort of hypnotic state Norton enters after sex with Espinoza, as revealed on page 34.

Another curious episode could be construed to be a dream (pp. 35 – 36). Morini apparently wakes up blind one morning. After making his way over to the window he had been gazing out the night before and having a dizzy spell, he goes back to bed and wakes up an hour later with sight, then calmly goes about his morning. The episode is presented matter of factly as if it happened as described, but it’s tempting to suggest that Morini merely dreamed the blindness.

On page 40, we have again not a dream proper, but mention of dreaming: “with her words Norton managed to give substance to a being whom neither Espinoza nor Pelletier had ever seen, as if her ex existed only in their dreams.”

Finally, starting on page 45, we have not just a dream, but a full-fledged nightmare on Morini’s part. The three male scholars are playing cards around a stone table while Norton is diving into a pool situated behind Espinoza and Pelletier, who are absorbed in the game. As he plays, Morini watches people in the area, and they begin to leave. Pelletier seems to be winning the card game. Morini abandons the game and wheels himself to the edge of the pool, which turns out to be huge, with oily patches here and there. He’s looking for Norton. A fog appears, and suddenly the pool empties and turns out to be very deep. He sees a female figure at the bottom, and she starts to make her way to a rock jutting from the edge of the pool. Meanwhile, he senses someone behind him that he believes to be evil and who wants him to turn and look at his/her face. He backs away but finally turns and sees a young Norton’s face. He wonders who’s walking in the bottom of the pool and feels “deeply and inconsolably sad.” He turns to face Norton, and she says “There’s no turning back,” apparently via telepathy. She repeats it in German and turns paradoxically and walks away into a forest giving off a red glow. Note this utterance of Norton’s alongside Morini’s own thought, expressed on page 43, that nothing is ever behind us.


Bleakonomy pointed out an interesting passage early in the novel that I think deserves a closer look. From page 9:

Five months later, visit back in England again, viagra approved Liz Norton received a gift in the mail from her German friend. As one might guess, web it was another novel by Archimboldi. She read it, liked it, went to her college library to look for more books by the German with the Italian name, and found two: one was the book she had already read in Berlin, and the other was Bitzius. Reading the latter, really did make her go running out. It was raining in the quadrangle, and the quadrangular sky looked like the grimace of a robot or a god made in our own likeness. The oblique drops of rain slid down the blades of grass in the park, but it would have made no difference if they had slid up. Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote.

I would love to see someone with the Spanish version give us an idea of the nuance here, especially the (drops) and the crystallized vomitings. Anyone care to take a shot at what this means?

Week 1: Characters

by Brooks Williams

Jean-Claude Pelletier

Born 1961. Discovered Archimboldi (D’Arsonval) while studying German literature in Paris, link Christmas 1980 at the age of 19 (3). Read Mitzi’s Treasure and then The Garden. Translated D’Arsonval into French in 1983. A professor of German in Paris (by 1986). Translated two other (unnamed) Archimboldi works. “…regarded almost universally as the preeminent authority on Benno von Archimboldi across the length and breadth of France” (4).

Experiences a sort of rebirth while translating D’Arsonval. Not unlike the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:22-32). “…first, that his life as he had lived it so far was over; second, that a brilliant career was opening up before him, and that to maintain its glow he had to persist in his determination, in sole testament to that garret.” (5)

First met Morini in 1989 at a German literature conference. First met Espinoza in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12).

Realizes he loves Liz Norton (16) and is first to sleep with her after the meetings with Schnell and Mrs. Bubis in 1995 (30).

Piero Morini

Born 1956, near Naples. Discovered Archimboldi in 1976. Translated Bifurcaria, Bifurcata to Italian in 1988. Shortly afterwards, published two studies – “one on the role of fate in Railroad Perfection, and the other on the various guises of conscience and guilt in Lethaea, on the surface an erotic novel, and in Bitzius, a novel less than one hundred pages long, similar in some ways to Mitzi’s Treasure…” (6). Also translated Saint Thomas in 1991.
Has multiple sclerosis, “suffered [a] strange and spectacular accident that left her permanently wheelchair-bound.” (6)
Teaches German literature at the University of Turin.
First met Pelletier 1989 at a German literature conference. First met Espinoza in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12).

Manuel Espinoza

Younger than Pelletier and Morini (no date of birth given). Originally wanted to be a writer and studied Spanish literature. Had a brief period of interest in Ernst Jünger before becoming interested in German Literature. Completed his doctorate in German literature in 1990. Never translated any German author “since the glory he coveted was of the writer, not the translator.” (6)

First met Morini and Pelletier in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12).

Realizes he loves Liz Norton (16) and sleeps with her after the meetings with Schnell and Mrs. Bubis (33-34).
Some additional thoughts:

• Bolano infers that in The Sorrows of Young Werther Espinoza would find a “kindrid spirit” (6). As a plot device it infers that Espinoza is chasing a career in writing that he will never have and he ought to just murder that desire and get on with it. At the same time Espinoza’s character is illuminated – he is emotional and likely to perform mellow dramatic acts of passion that have grave consequences. Or maybe not.

Espinoza seems fundamentally immature. Example – “He also discovered that he was bitter and full of resentment, that he oozed resentment, and that he might easily kill someone, anyone, if it would provide a respite from the loneliness and rain and cold of Madrid.” (7-8) I guess it’s supposed to reflect some kind of Spanish passion, but to me it just feels immature. Rather emo, really.

Liz Norton

Born 1968 in England (9). She is divorced (33). Discovered Archimboldi in 1998 when visiting Berlin – was loaned The Blind Woman by a friend. Later discovered Bitzius in a college library (9).

Teaches German literature at a university in London. Not a full professor. Discovered by Pelletier, Morini, and Espinoza via an article in Literary Studies (#46) in 1993 or 1994. Met them around the same time at a conference (12).
Has no close friends (44).
Sleeps with Pelletier in 1995 (30). Some time afterwards sleeps with Espinoza (33-34).

The Opposing Group of Archimboldians

Schwartz, Borchmeyer and Pohl (11) and later Dieter Hellfeld (37).

The Swabian

Unnamed, obscure German author that speaks at a 1995 penel discussion on contemporary German literature in Amsterdam. Tells a story about being a cultural promoter “for a Frisian town, north of Wilhelmshaven, facing the Black Sea coast and the East Frisian islands…” (18) where Archimboldi had come to do a reading.
Notes that Archimboldi had read two chapters from his second novel, a work in progress. His first novel, according to the Swabian, was short – between 100 and 125 pages [Lüdicke] . Archimboldi is 29 or 30 years old [so this is probably around 1950]. After the reading, the Swabian and Archimboldi go to dinner with a teacher and a widow. The latter tells a long story involving a gaucho, a horse race, and a riddle. By the next morning Archimboldi had disappeared.
The Swabian reappears via an article in the Reutlingen Morning News in which a bit more information is given about Archimboldi and the widow (38).


Editor in chief of Archimboldi’s publisher (in Hamburg). Pelletier and Espinzoa visit him shortly after the encounter with the Swabian (and believe him to be gay) (24).

Mrs. Bubis

Widow of Archimboldi’s publisher (Mr. Bubis). Visited by Pelletier and Espinzoa. Tells a story about how the work of George Grosz affects her (joy) versus how it affects a critic friend (sorrow) (26-27).

Shares an odd review of Archimboldi’s first novel by someone named Schleiermacher (27-28).

Mr. Bubis

Archimboldi’s publisher. Knew (and was loved by) all of the famous German writers, according to his wife (26). Aside from the publicity director and the copy chief, he is the only person at the publishing house that had actually met Archimboldi in person (24).

Liz Norton’s Ex-Husband

“… six foot three and not very stable…”
“…the worst husband a woman could inflict on herself, no matter how you looked at it. (34)

“…a horribly violent monster, but one who never materialized…” (40)

Referenced again in an email from Norton to Morini (43).

The Stranger

First mention: (48)

The stranger sits next to Morini in a park in London while Morini is visiting Liz Norton (48).
“The stranger had straw-colored hair, graying and dirty, and must have weighed at least two hundred and fifty pounds.” (48)

The stranger worked for a mug company that shifted their focus from text to pictures. This shift made the man very unhappy and he quit his job. He said that it was the new modernness of that caused his unhappiness (“they’re destroying me inside”) (49-50).

He asked Morini to read him some recipes from the book Morini is reading (Il libro di cucina di Juana Inés de la Cruz) (50-51)

Historical Characters

  • Page 6
    • Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 – 1843) – German Romantic poet. A Swabian (!!)
    • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) – German writer and polymath. Famous works: Faust, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Interesting trivia – the second part of Faust was published posthumously.
    • Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805) – German poet and playwright. Schiller was buddies with Goethe from 1794 until his death. A Swabian (!!)
    • Ernst Jünger (1895 – 1998) – German writer. A leader (?) in the Conservative Revolutionary movement of the 1920’s. Among the forerunners of magical realism (which would be later used to great acclaim by Gabriel García Márquez).
  • Page 7
    • Camilo José Cela (1916 – 2002) – Spanish writer. Fought on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Nobel Prize (Literature) in 1989.
    • William James (1842 – 1910) – American psychologist and philosopher.
  • Page 10
    • Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856) – German Romantic Poet (assumed reference here, only the last name is used in the text)
    • Arno Schmidt (1914 – 1979) – German author and translator.
  • Page 11
    • Miguel de Unamuno (1864 – 1936) – Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, playwright and philosopher
  • Page 12
  • Page 19
    • Gustav Heller, Rainer Kuhl, Wilhelm Frayn – invented authors
  • Page 26
    • Chaim Soutine (1893 – 1943) – “… Jewish, expressionist painter from Belarus. He has been interpreted as both a forerunner of Abstract Expressionism and as a proponent of painting in the European tradition”
    • Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944) – Russian painter. Early abstract painter
    • George Grosz (1893 – 1959) – German artist. Known for caricature work in his early career. A member of the Verist-wing of the New Objectivists group.
    • Oskar Kokoschka (1886 – 1980) – Austrian expressionist painter
    • James Ensor (1860 – 1949) – Belgian painter
    • Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955) – German writer. Nobel Prize (Literature) 1929. Younger brother of Heinrich Mann.
    • Heinrich Mann (1871 – 1950) – German writer. Exiled in 1933. Older brother of Thomas Mann
    • Klaus Mann (1906 – 1949) – German writer. Son of Thomas Mann. It’s notable that each mentioned member of the Mann family lost their German citizenship between 1933 and 1936 and ended up living (and dying) in the US.
    • Alfred Döblin (1878 – 1957) – German expressionist novelist. Heavily influenced Günter Grass.
    • Hermann Hesse (1877 – 1962) – German born Swiss writer. Nobel Prize (Literature) 1946.
    • Walter Benjamin (1892 – 1940) – “a German-Jewish Marxist philosopher-sociologist, literary critic, translator and essayist”
    • Anna Seghers (1900 – 1983) – German writer.
    • Stefan Zweig (1881 – 1942) – Austrian writer.
    • Bertolt Brecht (1868 – 1956) – German poet and playwright
    • Lion Feuchtwanger (1884 – 1958) – German novelist and playwright
    • Johannes Becher (1891 – 1958) – German expressionist writer and politician.
    • Oskar Maria Graf (1894 – 1967) – German writer. Sometimes used a pseudonym – Oskar Graf-Berg.
    • Hans Fallada (1893 – 1947) – German writer. Born Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen.
    • Marlene Dietrich (1901 – 1992) – German-born American actress and singer.
  • Page 42
    • Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) – French poet and translator. “Baudelaire’s name has become a byword for literary and artistic decadence.”
  • Page 44
    • Marquis de Sade (1740 – 1814) – French aristocrat and writer, famous for his erotic novels.
  • Page 47

Misc. References

The Sorrows of Young Wertherpublished 1774, written by Johann Wolfgang con Goethe. Plot summary is essentially that there’s this dude (Werther, a thinly disguised Goethe) who falls in love with this girl (Charlotte) but she’s already with another guy (Albert). Regardless, Werther becomes very close to Charlotte and Albert. The marriage of Charlotte and Albert cause Werther all kinds of mental anguish and after Charlotte sends him away, Werther commits suicide.

Huguenot (38) – “…members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France (or French Calvinists) from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Since the eighteenth century, Huguenots have been commonly designated ‘French Protestants’, the title being suggested by their German co-religionists or ‘Calvinists’. “

Some Additional Notes On The Works Of Archimboldi:

D’Arsonval – possibly a reference to Jacques-Arsène d’Arsonval, who was a French physicist. The D’Arsonval phenomenon is commonly referred to as the Tesla Current (“An alternating current having a frequency of 10 kilohertz or greater produces no muscular contractions and does not affect the sensory nerves”). Remember that this is the first Archimboldi that Pelletier reads and is also the first that he translates from German to French. We’ll discuss this more next week…

Saint ThomasThomas the Apostle was known mostly for disbelieving in Jesus’s resurrection (John 20:28). The phrase “doubting Thomas” finds its origins in Saint Thomas. It is Morini that translates this work – I wonder if there’s any significance?

LethaeaLethaea – From Wikipedia:

“a mythological character briefly mentioned in Ovid‘s Metamorphoses. Due to her vanity, she was turned to stone at Ida by the gods. Her lover Olenus wished to share in the blame, and so shared her fate. The story is used a metaphor for how stunned Orpheus was after a failed attempt to bring back his wife from the underworld. It was as if he too were turned to stone.”

Again, this work is linked to Morini through a paper he authored on “on the various guises of conscience and guilt in Lethaea, on the surface an erotic novel…” The paper also uses Bitzius as a primary reference.

Bifurcaria, Bifurcata – Some science-y stuff here – Bifurcaria is a source of unique diterpenoids which may prove pharmaceutically beneficial. In one preliminary study, an extract of Bifurcaria bifurcata halted the proliferation of cancer cells. This work of Archimboldi was also translated by Morini, who has multiple sclerosis. So maybe there’s a link between this stuff that might offer some kind of cancer relief and the one character that’s confined to a wheelchair? Also, Bifurcaria, Bifurcata makes me think of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! mostly for the sound and the shape of the words.

Bitzius – Probably a reference to Albert Bitzius, who wrote under the pen name Jeremias Gotthelf. All we know of Bitzius is that it’s a short novel, less than 100 words. More of a novella, really. This one is tied to Morini again, but I don’t see a clear connection within the context of 2666.

The Fictional Intelligentsia

by Maria Bustillos

The first thing that struck me about this narrative is the wonderful layering-up of fictional intellectuals over the historical ones. We are introduced to the tenebrous character of Archimboldi, unhealthy the fictional German fictionalist; the scholars who study him, visit themselves fictions; the gentle, sardonic narrator, at least somewhat fictional, who points out all their little flaws and dodges. But when Morini sits down to read in a London park, he’s reading a real book: Il Libro di Cucina di Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, by Angelo Morino (1999). The subject of this book, Sor Juana, is a classic 17th-c. Mexican poet whom Bolaño claimed as an influence, and whom educated readers of Spanish would be expected to recognize at once. Sor Juana was an extremely undeceived writer, a sensualist, a feminist, a nun, a prodigy, an altogether intense character; Morino’s book is apparently an extremely cool transcription of recipes that the poet copied down in the convent where she lived for 27 years, together with her thoughts on the philosophy of cuisine, which are decidedly non-trivial. There’s a suggestion that she conceived of a correspondence between food and knowledge: between sabor and saber. She also said that if Aristotle had cooked, he would have written a great deal more (to which I could not help inwardly responding jeeps, how much more do you want? But I digress.)

I saw the mention of this book as another instance of the literary recursiveness that seems to be developing in 2666: copying and recopying, studying, going back over, the re-re-combination of ideas, words, names into this huge literary palimpsest that the book itself is re(re-re-re)-reproducing, and hilariously we are also most of us reading it in translation. In this way the realm of the imagination folds outward into the “real” world, which is also the literary world, itself imaginary (taking place in the mind,) one that’s already been so much written-over before we ever happened on it ourselves; in the real/imaginary world of the novel, the story also folds back into itself and the mysterious world of Archimboldi. (Where the hell is that guy?)

The warmth, friendliness and humor of the book have been a very pleasant surprise, so far. I suppose I had been expecting something a little more forbidding from an author so widely celebrated. Certainly one can’t help but respond to Bolaño’s overwhelming love of and dedication to literature. He said: “In one way or another, we’re all anchored to the book. A library is a metaphor for human beings or what’s best about human beings, the same way a concentration camp can be a metaphor for what is worst about them. A library is total generosity.”

Week 1: pages 1–51

Welcome, everyone. This week we are discussing the first 51 pages of 2666. You can participate by leaving a comment on this post, posting in the forums or on your own blog, on bolano-l, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Tumblr, on Goodreads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing. Or invent your own way and let me know (matt@bolanobolano.com).

I should say from the outset that this is my second read of the novel. The first read was completed less than a year ago in conjunction with a group read on bolano-l. That read fizzled out way too early online, but there are still some excellent posts in the archives. I wrote some material there for the Part About the Critics that I will revise and post (where relevant) here.

This section introduces all the major characters of this Part: the four Archimboldi critics (Espinoza, Pelletier, Morini, and Norton) and Benno von Archimboldi himself (the star of Part V: The Part About Archimboldi). Plotwise, we see the development of each critic as an Archimboldean scholar and the subsequent enmeshment of their personal lives—namely that Pelletier, and then Espinoza, sleep with Liz Norton. We learn that Archimboldi’s life is shrouded in mystery. He was born in Prussia (and writes in German) with a name that looks Italian, but which he claims is Huguenot French (but with a German “von”), and his novels are either “English-themed”, or “Polish-themed”, or “clearly French-themed.”

As you will see in the timeline or locations index, there is quite a bit of traveling around in this section. The critics all live in different countries (England, France, Spain, Italy) and they frequently attend conferences in other countries to speak about a writer from a yet a different country (Germany). I believe that part of what Bolaño is doing here is showing the porousness of certain borders, that European national borders are so easily crossed and recrossed that it barely rates mentioning the difference between countries at all. Without giving anything away, the concept of the border plays a different role in later sections of the novel. Bolaño relishes the opportunity to cross borders and mix nationalities—almost as much as he enjoys mixing in the names of fictional writers with real ones. He himself is considered a Chilean writer, but he traveled throughout Mexico, Europe, and Central America before settling down in Blanes, Spain, where he spent the last 20 years of his life.

The first time I wrote about this section, I spent considerable time trying to look at the names of the characters. Some members of bolano-l thought that was too simplistic, but I still think it’s interesting. Here are a few tidbits:

Ostensibly French, Pelletier is probably a  more common Quebecois surname now. For example, there is a Canadian writer named Jean-Jacques Pelletier. I don’t think Bolaño based Jean-Claude on Jean-Jacques, but it helps me to visualize the character, to put a face to a name so to speak.

“Liz Norton” has got to be an homage to the Norton Anthology of English Literature (or any of the Norton anthologies).

“Espinoza” is closely identified with the Dutch/Portuguese/Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (who wrote in Latin and whose name in Portuguese was written Bento de Espinosa).  Here again we have an allusion to someone whose nationality is either ill-defined or not related to their work.

The Morini were a tribe in the Roman Empire that occupied a part of what is now French Flanders (the arrondissements near the border of Belgium). The descendents of Morini speak a difficult Dutch dialect called West-Vlaams (West Flemish). Morini is also the name of a large European target-pistol manufacturer that was originally founded in Italy but later moved to an Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. Both of these Morinis (the Roman tribe and the gunmaker) experience a shift, although they retain a language. In a way, Espinoza starts out studying Spanish and then shifts his focus to a German writer (Junger) before
discovering another German writer (Archimboldi) with an Italian name.

The name Archimboldi is very close to (Guiseppe) Arcimboldo, and Arcimboldo is sometimes written Arcimboldi. Arcimboldo is remembered for his portraits composed of fruit or other objects, but he was also multi-national: he worked in Italy and also served as official portraitist to the royal house of Habsburg in Vienna and Prague.

Michael and Nicole report no official deaths in the first 51 pages, but two brief mentions:

p. 30 – “A day later they found him in the yard, dead.”  Referring to the boy from the Japanese horror film recounted by Pelletier.  This one doesn’t count, but we are tracking death here.

Also on p. 43 we have the first mention of the femicides: “Around this time, Morini was the first to read an article about the killings in Sonora . . . the dead numbered well over one hundred.” Based on the timeline, this is late 1996 or early 1997.

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